Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just a walk in the park....

Chingaza National Park, that is, source of Bogota's excellent water supply.  We met the office Elders at zero-dark:15, and hopped a bus to Guasca, about an hour north. 
Elder Serey, the Chilean leader of these excellent adventures, bargained a couple of taxis down to get us up near the Park.  Paula enjoyed the sun.
The ride was...interesting.  I'm sure our 75,000 pesos ($42.23 USD) didn't come close to covering the wear and tear on the little yellow cars.
Because of the ecological fragility of the Park, it's not publicized; the absolute lack of road maintenance may be part of keeping the secret also.  
We had paid ahead for a guide; to the ranger living in the "park headquarters," that meant that he pointed in the general direction of the rest of the park, told us not to feed the pumas, wished us luck, and went back to bed.
It's all fun and games until someone pokes their eye, 
and the trail tilts upward.  The Guasca Chamber of Commerce said something about a "family hike."  Maybe if your family is from Katmandu and has the last name "Sherpa."
We saw one grizzled, slightly crazed backpacker, and he seemed to be in a hurry to get out.
On the other hand, the scenery was magnificent, with a series of glacial lakes and spectacular cliffs.
The old adage about an army moving on its stomach has not been lost on Paula, who finally called a lunch stop at about 11,000 feet.
As we ascended along the main ridge to the highest point in the park, it got a teensy bit windy. (click on that phrase for a windy video link.)
Then the trail got a teensy bit narrower, and finally gave out at 12,500 feet with a sheer drop to the left of about a thousand or so.
At that point, we backtracked, then made the admittedly stupid decision to bushwack for a bit.  By the way those weird, endangered plants are Espeletia schultzii, and no, Paula didn't care by this point either.
OK, what was meant by "admittedly stupid decision?"  How many years does one have to be a Scoutmaster before he learns that it's always better to go back down the trail?  We ended up in a high-altitude micro-climate rain forest, and at one point literally made 50 feet of progress in 30 minutes on hands and knees crawling through rotting vegetation as water ran underneath.
The flowers in the park and below were beautiful.  This is Digitalis purpurea, and after eight hours on the trail, I didn't care much either.
We climbed one more mountain; Julie Andrews and that German guy would be proud.
At this point, at about 12,000 feet, the Mom on the trip put her little Gore-tex-clad foot down and said, "Enough!"
We worked our way back down, and left through the front gate of the National Park.  That's really the front gate, and I am not making this up.
It got warmer as we hiked down to catch the bus back to Guasca, 
so that we could catch the bus back down to Bogotá.
We arrived back in town by about 8:30 PM, and when I asked about dinner, I got The Look.  We ended up at Archie's Pizza.  Unfortunately, so had a family with some really bratty kids.  They got The Look also, and left soon thereafter. 
So, another great adventure in a beautiful, interesting and weird place.
We hope that your hikes are all as rewarding, and that they screen the bratty kids at your pizza place.
Dave & Paula

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why they have tile floors in S. America

When asked what they wanted Sister Henderson to serve next, the office Elders said, "Coconut rice!"
So first, you have to get a coconut or two.  Paula looked around for a tree, but quickly realized that being altitudinally challenged and not from these parts, there had to be another way.
There was, and they were only three thousand mil (about a buck and a half) a piece.
The next thing you need is a Puerto Rican.  Luckily, one is close at hand, one of our favorite people, Lucy Casablanca, wife of President Casablanca of the Bogotá South MIssion.
She gave Paula a quick tutorial on how to make a coconut obey.  
First, you put a screwdriver through the "eye" that's softest and drain the water.  Eeeewww!
Next, and this is the part Paula liked the most, you put the thing in a plastic bag and heave it at the floor! The reward is a satisfying shattering sound, and the release of any pent-up frustrations occasioned by your spouse (speaking of other people).
 Now, doesn't that feel better? The busted up coconut goes in the freezer.
Once thawed, the white part comes out really easily.
Ever try to milk a cow?  Ever try to milk a COCONUT?  Luckily, the processes are not even close.
Pull out your dependable Osterizer, add the coconut water to the chunks and let 'er rip!
Now, take one of your husband's white shirts that suffered a pen leak, cut out the back and make a bag, and strain out the coconut milk.  This part may take a llooonnnnngggg time if your husband is careful with pens.
Now you've got coconut milk to make the rice (recipe on request), and a bunch of shredded coconut.  
And that, dear reader, is why they have tile floors in South America.
May all your coconuts (and spouses) be equally obedient.
Dave & Paula

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tierra Caliente, here we come!

We live in Bogotá, on the border between the Bogotá North and Bogotá South Missions.  While the South Mission is the largest of the four missions of the Church in the country, it has the smallest area where missionaries can safely serve.  The rest of its territory is the "Red Zone," where the risk from the FARC and other groups is too high to send missionaries. 
Periodically, the Mission Presidents travel to visit missionaries and Church leaders, and to hold Zone Conferences, where a number of Districts (6-10 missionaries) in the Zones (2-4 Districts) get together for instruction.  
President Casablanca and his wife Lucy, originally from Puerto Rico, kindly invited Paula and I to tag along on such a five-day trip to the "Tierra Caliente," or "Warm Land" part of their mission.  
Paula, who is a warmth-loving creature, packed her bags.
The drive through the mountains of Colombia was gorgeous, and the rest room at the lunch stop rated a "10" on the IBRS (International Bathroom Rating Scale). 
Our first stop was in Girardot, where we stayed at a hotel originally built by the drug cartels as a nice meeting place, but which was taken over and run by the government after the crack down.
It was warm and elegant.  Did I mention that it was warm?  Paula told me to emphasize that.

From there, it was on to Ibagué, a city of 750,000 nestled up next to the Andes at about 4,500 feet.
Ibagué benefits from its location on the main highway between Colombia's Pacific port and Bogotá, from the agriculture in the region (rice, coffee, rice, tobacco, sugarcane and rice), and from what can only be described as a perfect climate.  
Daytime highs are in the low 80's, and nighttime temps drop to about 60 degrees.  When conditions are right, snow can be seen on the Andes in the distance.
We only half-jokingly talked about moving my office from rainy, cool Bogotá.  
Each morning was lovely, with the birds raiding the fruit on the serving tables.  One morning we watched as a small dove settled in the dry oatmeal bowl and ate until one of the waitresses kicked her out.
So, Ibagué was a nice place to visit, but there was actual work to be done.  President Casablanca and I visited three clinics/hospitals, seeking contracts with them that would allow the missionaries to be seen and treated first, and the Mission would then be billed.
In one recent instance, a missionary was injured in a bicycle accident, and President Casablanca had to drive down with cash and pay up front before the hospital would operate on the badly broken arm.  In another instance, everyone had to max their ATM cards before a clinic/hospital would start repairing facial injuries from another bike mishap.
However, I will admit that after the work, we were able to take advantage of the facilities.
One of our days was taken completely by a Zone Conference.  When asked about what he'd be addressing with the missionaries, President Casablanca said, "I'm going to talk about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."  His wife Lucy said, "I'll be discussing learning to rely on the Spirit."  They turned to me to see what my talk would cover:  "Diarrhea," I replied.
The next day, we packed up and headed out of the beautiful city.
We stopped by Girardot on the way and talked to another clinic, who said, "Sure! Send 'em to us!"
Finally, just before Bogotá, we stopped in Fusagasuga and bought bikes.  Specifying different wheels, the shop guys built them up while we waited, and we didn't have to wait long.  I have built several sets of bike wheels, and it's a cross between a puzzle and knitting metal.  However, these guys laughed and talked while they did it, and shamed me by completing each wheel in about 7 minutes, approximately 2.7% of the time I usually require.
All in all, a great trip.  We thoroughly enjoyed traveling with President and Sister Casablanca; I always learn a lot from the Presidents.
Anyway, it rained this afternoon in Bogotá, and we had to wear sweatshirts around the apartment...
Dave & Paula

Friday, February 17, 2012

This was no "Happy Meal"

All right, to get it out of the way, they DO have McDonald's in Colombia, but it's considered a luxury to eat there, as it is a bit pricey, and the food is considered somewhat exotic.
We had the very good fortune to travel with President and Sister Casablanca of the Bogotá South Mission this last week.  Coming back to Bogotá, we stopped in Fusa (short for Fusagasugá and I knew you couldn't say it) to buy bikes for two of the only four Elders in the mission who have the privilege of riding them.
True to his usual kindness, the President bought lunch for us and the Elders, the obviously Gringo one of which on the left has only been in-country for 10 days.
Paula saw "Tilapia" on the menu and went for it.
Paula may be smiling, and they did take Visa here, but that Meal does not look Happy.  It was quite tasty however, if you could just get past the grimace and the teeth.
We hope that all your Meals are more cheerful.
Dave & Paula

Friday, February 10, 2012

OK, it finally dawned on me

Pigeons don't fly in Bogotá.  Or at least not very much.
They seem to run around a lot, sure, and they do the usual swarming maneuver when someone throws them something to eat.
 However, they just don't fly.  I don't know if it's thin air here at 8,500+ feet, or the total lack of predators, but they seem totally nonplused when you walk by.  The other day, I looked a little closer:
Oh, my gosh!  These guys have really adapted!
OK, before you get too impressed, most of the pairs they're wearing, although they LOOK like top brands, are actually fakes.  I grabbed a slow fat one, and you could tell.  Bad seams, thin soles, I mean straight Chinese pirated stuff.  
Anyway, I guess they save some energy with the walking around instead of flying.  Like everyone else in Colombia, they've learned to just take the situation and get along.
We hope your accessories are all the real thing.
Dave & Paula